I felt my heart shift from the iron weightiness of grief to a lighter feeling of gratitude, like the flash of scarlet on red wing blackbirds in the sky.
It has never been my habit to visit graveyards. We never did it when I was young. However, after my dad took his final feather of a breath last February, he was buried, as he had pre-arranged, at a local cemetery. I went with my family to his gravesite on his birthday at the end of March. It was a miserable day so we didn’t linger. On Father’s Day, we went again and spent more time. My brother found our grandparent’s plot in the next row and our great aunt’s a few spaces away.
I felt compelled to go the cemetery alone on my birthday, July 15th. I sat down on the grass beside my dad’s horizontal marker and touched the bronze letters with the same tenderness that I used to touch his face. I played some Buddhist chants on my iPad while saying a few rounds of mantra with my mala beads. Tears spilled down my face. I could hardly speak. The sense of loss was so deep it would continue to disorient me for more than a year following his death.
This year, I went out again on my birthday, not sure what to expect, not wanting to tap into my grief again but also needing to honour my dad’s memory.
I thought about these four ancestors, who knew me as a child, who loved me like no one else.
I knelt down to brush some grass off the marker. I held my hand over his name, warmed by the summer sun.
“Hi Dad,” I said, “I miss you. We all miss you every day. Mom is doing okay. It’s my birthday and I want to thank you for the gift of my life. I love you.”
I touched my finger tips to my dear mom’s name beside his, her birthdate inscribed with a dash after it, waiting for her death to be recorded and the urn holding her ashes to be placed with him.
I walked over to the next row to my beloved Nana and Papa. Then, a few sites over to my Great Aunt Glenda, someone I cherished and who was like a grandmother to me. All of them, long gone. I knelt down at each site to say hello and thank you.
It was a blistering hot day. I sat down on a cool granite bench under a small tree. I gazed across the graveyard. A few floral decorations dotted the expanse of lawn. I thought about these four ancestors, who knew me as a child, who loved me like no one else. And especially my dad who passed on to me the love he had received from them all those years ago.
The breeze picked up, rustling the leaves overhead. I felt my heart shift from the iron weightiness of grief to a lighter feeling of gratitude, like the flash of scarlet on red wing blackbirds in the sky.
We invite you to share a story about yourself or another person, reflecting on the question: “How has gratefulness shifted a moment, an experience, or a lifetime?”
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I was so touched by this essay and remembered my grandparents who loved me too, like no one else. Although they’ve been gone for years, I feel their presence every day.
Thank you, this was an inspiration in so many ways to me. Blessings
What a beautiful reflection on those we carry in our hearts and bones. I was adopted by a wonderful couple who parented me as no one else could. They died in the earl 1990’s. Elizabeth’s writing reminded me of when I stopped by their final resting place, thousands of miles away, a decade ago….also on a warm day in July. I laid on the soft grass above them, my arms extended across their earthen cover, thanking them for the goodness and the many blessings lavished on me, their chosen child. How great is our God!
Seeing family in a cemetery immediately creates an impulse to redouble efforts on the spiritual path and vigorously resolve to transcend the fetters of the flesh.
You describe your experience so peacefully. I guess I am not prepared to deal with having some family be distant ancestors yet, not where I am in my own spiritual cultivation. Life & death hits like a brick to my soul when it gets that close. I am glad I found a solution.
Heaven (Poem) [translate heaven to Western Pure Land for Buddhists], Harry Lyman Koopman
Out of the world of illusion into the world of truth,
From the world of change and dying to the world of fadeless youth;
Where the eye of man unclouded shall look on the things that are,
And the heart of man unwithered be free from sorrow and care;
And the life of man unfettered by bonds of time and space,
Shall bloom as a god’s, unsleeping, yea, lit by God’s own face.
O Father, ’tis that fair Kingdom Thy hands have wrought for men;
From Thee was their beginning, to Thee they return again.
But forget not, O heart anhungered, that now, and here on the earth,
Mayst thou dwell in that heavenly city, mayst thou see with the soul’s new birth;
For whoso liveth and striveth in service of truth and of love,
To him yieldeth earth already the blessings promised above.